Pride and pitfalls of being an aging role model

Time Magazine – March 28, 2016 – page 62. The View Point Column.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar writes, “But being a black role model is a double-edged sword of inspiration and frustration…The frustration for the black role model is knowing that thought you are proof it can be done – a happy lottery winner waving a million dollar ticket – the odds are so astronomically stacked against you that it sometimes feels as if you’re more a source of false hope and crushed dreams. A casino shill they let win so the suckers will keep playing the slots…”

If you’re black and you fail, he says, people will say “blacks aren’t up to the task.” If you succeed, they’ll say you had advantages from being black.

Let’s try replacing “black” with “aging.”

If you’re old and you fail (or, quite literally, fall), people will say, “It’s your age. What do you expect?”

If you’re old and you dance, work out or perform outstanding feats with technology, they say, “You’re doing well for your age.” Never mind that what you’re doing would be impressive at any age.

I once saw a television interviewer exclaiming over a white-haired woman who was jumping out of airplanes. That’s something most people won’t do, at any age. But the focus was on how old she was.

I get annoyed when younger women at the gym say, “You are amazing.” I’ve been working out for over 30 years. I’m in better shape than some younger people. Even doctors – on the rare occasions I see them – admit I’m in shape.

But I also must have gotten some good genes. And being old is still far from being a picnic, unless you’re running for president.

The Great Bone Density Myth

There’s very little evidence that “preventive” actions make a difference, especially in those over 65.

Bone density scans also are highly recommended but other measures (e.g., muscle tone, ability to rise from a chair) predict fractures more and bone density doesn’t predict hip fractures, as discussed here. I’d like to see references to articles showing that people on meds for cholesterol, high blood pressure, etc., actually experience different end points than those who are not screened. Often when you actually read those articles you find the relative differences are huge but the actual differences are barely noticeable. When you start quoting journal articles to doctors the conversation changes.

Aging and Being Single: Grandmother Hormones

Today’s New York Times Style section included an article, The Bliss of Grandmother Hormones by Dominique Browning.

She has a remarkably frank comment about aging:
“When we’re young, aging looks sort of yucky; frankly, even though it is extremely un-P.C. to say so, it looks sort of yucky when we get there, too. Hence, the magical thinking around skin creams.”

It’s not clear what we’re to make of that comment. Is she saying that yes, older people are ugly and therefore worthy of discrimination?

But, she says, all these concerns about aging disappear when one enjoys the pleasure of holding “a six-pound newborn boy” against “a heart burnished with the patina of age.”

Probably true. As a single person, I get a lot of pleasure out of holding my cat or snuggling with the dog. Age is a non-issue. Just mutual acceptance.

Maybe I should try for an op-ed about that. Not as PC as grandmothers but surprisingly common.

Geriatric Psychiatrist in WSJ Says Adventure Leads To Depression

It’s Time To Think The Bucket List After Retirement by Marc E. Agronin

This article reinforces stereotypes of seniors as soft, cuddly nurturers. Many people over 60 are childless. Many prefer to work for money rather than volunteer (especially for organizations that pay their executives handsomely, such as hospitals and nursing homes). Some just like to travel.

A geriatric psychiatrist should know better than to stereotype “older brains.” Some people take more risks as they get older; novelty-seeking is a personality trait. Having never been especially conscientious or maternal, I doubt that I’ll transform when I hit a magic number.

Here’s what he writes about his patient “Dora:”

“She and her husband spent several months and considerable treasure each year after retirement traveling to a bucket list of exotic locales, but found themselves feeling increasingly alienated from family and friends who did not share in their adventures. Their children complained that they seemed more interested in spending time with itinerant acquaintances than with their grandchildren. Several friends became reticent to invite them on weekend outings, fearing that any such plans paled in comparison with their many adventures.” (more…)

Why Simplicity Wins In Politics

Many people are decrying the advancement of Donald Trump to front-runner for US President. Some observers claim to be shocked by the number of voters who respond to his simple, hard-line solutions. Some claim he’s just acting, but
there’s a reason he’s chosen to play thi s role. It works.

If we wonder why we got Donald Trump, we can look to the way people accept modern medicine. The Amazon summary of a new book, Snowball in a Blizzard by Steven Hatch, says

“The key to good health might lie in the ability to recognize the hype created by so many medical reports, sense when to push a physician for more testing, or resist a physician’s enthusiasm when unnecessary tests or treatments are being offered.” In his book Overdiagnosed, Gilbert Welch questions the usefulness of diagnostic tests. Study after study shows that annual medical exams don’t affect mortality rates.

The truth is, “preventive medicine” (sometimes written as “preventative medicine,” as if the extra syllable lends authority to a nebulous concept) doesn’t exist. Scans, screening and exams rarely prevent anything. They sometimes reduce risk and allow early detection. Sometimes the risk reduction is on the order of 3% or less, which most scientists would agree isn’t clinically significant. Often early detection doesn’t affect outcomes. In his book Less Medicine, More Health, Gilbert Welch explains that cancer comes in at least three varieties: the “birds,” which grow so fast you’re doomed by the time you’re diagnosed; the “turtles,” which grow so slowly you might be dead before you can do anything; and the “rabbits,” which have an impact when caught and treated in the early stages. That’s why so many women get cancer despite annual mammograms. (more…)

AARP Food Truck Stunt Shows How AARP Is Clueless

So AARP decides to take on age stereotypes. They set up a food truck with a big sign, “No One Under 40.”

Their takeaway is, “See how silly ageism looks out in the open?”

But the truth is, the response of people in the video sends the opposite message.

Not one person under 40 questioned the ban on over-40 people. Not one said, “This is illegal.” People who were turned away just accepted their fate.

One woman even let her mother be turned away.

Just imagine the sign had said, “White people only.” Or, “We don’t serve gay people.”

 

Age discrimination starts as early as …35?!

This article from PBS News says it all: age discrimination starts as early as 35. Researchers sent around resumes, changing only the birth date of the applicant. Older applicants got fewer invitations.

When companies were asked why this was happening, the a”reasons given include worries that they’re not good at technology, that they don’t have computer skills. There’s worries that they’re not active, that they’re slow, that they’re not willing to embrace change. There’s worries that they’re just going to leave…” And these reasons just aren’t true.

And AARP’s recommendations, it turns out, aren’t helpful. Why are we not surprised?

According to this article, AARP told people to write, “I’m willing to embrace change.” People who followed this advice got fewer callbacks.

I’m not surprised. I once told a client to remove the phrase, “Maintain an active lifestyle” from his resume. You’re calling attention to age – and emphasizing that you define yourself by age.

So what can you do?

They suggest, “Volunteer and take classes.”

I’d beg to differ.

I’d say to position yourself away from entry level jobs; you’ll still get discrimination but not as much.

And go back to school to study entrepreneurship. Get the entrepreneurial mindset going earlier rather than later.

Grandma got run over by stereotypes of aging

An article appeared in Time Magazine: Startups for Seniors. I was hoping they were going to highlight seniors who started their own companies in response to age discrimination, but no: they talked about startups making devices to protect seniors in their own homes. Even worse, they referred to these seniors collectively as “Grandma,” as in, “I Grandma falls…” or, “If Grandma needs help…”  http://time.com/3560459/startups-for-seniors/

Then there were mentions of “that ugly Christmas sweater your Gram-Gram got for you. I wrote about them in another post.
“http://www.philadelphiaweekly.com/events/Ugly-Christmas-Sweater-Soiree-135669108.html

And from an article on social media, of all things: “For the first time, more than half (56%) of internet users ages 65 and older use Facebook. Yes: grandma and grandpa are now on Facebook.”

So now everyone 65 and older has grandchildren? Is this an extension of singlism?

“10 ways to respect your elders”

Not sure how I feel about this article. It’s not easy to transport attitudes across cultures.

In some ways the stereotypes are reinforced, such as asking “elders” for advice. Being old doesn’t automatically make one wise.

But in general, shouldn’t everyone be treated this way? In a medical setting, everyone should be addressed by last name and title. But if everyone else is on a first name basis, why make the “elders” stick out?

It’s fine to serve “elders” first at a family or purely social event, but not everyone likes to be reminded of his or her status. In some contexts, special care comes across as patronizing.

I’m especially nervous about the advice to intrude on someone’s privacy by assuming they’re lonely and want company. No thanks! Nobody should be in a nursing home – they’re evil places. If you’re at a party and see someone who’s alone, it’s nice to seek them out; in fact, it’s a savvy networking strategy.

Age isn’t a useful marker here. Anyone can be lonely, physically limited, or able to deliver wise counsel. Focus on the person, not the age.